Description: The carnage left in the wake of The Butcher has Zach Glenn on the hunt for answers... and thus Ayame is approached, with not one but two issues to answer to.
Ayame didn't give Zach much to go on when last they parted. 'Nyami' was an amusing mix of some characters of her name but wouldn't link directly to the severe priestess of the Meian Jinja. But he would have seen full well that her garb was similiar to that of a shinto priestess - the long, billowing sleeves of what had been a white kimono before it was splashed in blood, the crimson hued skirt at her waist. The signs of used, sliced ofuda scattered around, the talismans of a spirit warden to be certain.
And of course, there's always that glimmering chance that he remembers her actual name. A memory, coming to the surface in the calm of the night, when thoughts wander and inspiration can strike. Maybe he already knows the strawberry-blonde priestess's name is not Nyami at all?
Looking into places where priestesses operate out of around Southtown can be a challenge. There are actually a wide number of shrines in the region. But most of them are dedicated to peaceful worship, pacifistic rituals of nonviolence, and volunteer service throughout the city. Of the many shrines located in Southtown, none of them would have the reputation matching what Zach would be looking into. Certainly, some could offer services, prayer, meditation, and selling holy baubles that promised to ward off evil spirits... but none of them seemed to specialize in the kind of aggressive extermination or combat like the girl he encountered in the park that night.
And there's a reason for that. As he checks into the various shrines and chats with the priests and mikos that maintain them, if he mentioned having issues with darkstalkers, they would first try to disuade him from meddling in such affairs. Then they would try to make sure that he had a real problem that needed fixing as opposed to wanting to just harass some poor, misunderstood soul who's body isn't 'normal'... But if he expressed the severity of what he was investigating, eventually they would all point him toward the one jinja that specializes in jsut his kind of problem.
The Meian Jinja is located thirty kilometers north of Southtown. Located deep in a lush bamboo forest, one can drive up to a dirt parking lot not far off. A walk along a path through the forest would bring one to a vast grove of ancient cherry trees before approaching the large walled in compound itself. A wooden gate would hang open at the courtyard, allowing one to walk in without any hinderence.
Inside the courtyard, the shrine building itself casts an impressive sight toward the back - a large building surrounded by a smaller wall and tall, thin trees. There are also living quarters to one side, and various storage sheds against the walls. If Zach described who he was looking for, any of the helpful, polite staff doing maintenance on the compound would direct him to the gardens where he would find Ayame.
She looks much the same as the last time he saw her, minus the layers of blood, though her skirt has been replaced with a full lengthed hakama that covers her legs. She is seated toward the center of the garden area where an impressive rock garden can be found. A stone bench at the side gives her a place to sit while she fiddles with a long wooden shaft in her hands. She would not be caught by surprise, however, looking up long before Zach would get close, glancing over her shoulder, brown eyes studying the young man, a faint frown forming at her lips.
Zach actually used the name Ayame, in fact. He hadn't bought into the Nyame name, but wasn't about to make an issue of it then and there. That situation wasn't tactically viable, and the pair needed to leave the scene quickly. He looks over the young woman in front of him.
"You clean up well, Ayame," Zach says as he walks in. He's wearing his khaki service uniform, with the hard framed cap. "I've got an issue. Two of them, actually." Zach frowns. Which problem to tackle first.
He decides on the personal problem first; there is a concern that once he starts talking about the monster, Ayame will tunnel vision.
"What did you and Seishirou do to Rust and me?" he asks in a steely tone. "And for once in two lifetimes, I need you to be straight with me on something."
He knows. Or at least suspects something.
As he speaks, she stands up, turning to face him, her left hand holding the wooden staff, her right hand holding a metal chisel. The weapon itself appears to have been intricately carved though the runes etched into its surface only run along half of its length at this point. And there she stands, clad in the traditional garb of a Shinto shrine maiden, her long hair restrained only by a thick crimson hued ribbon tied into a large bow at the back of her head. Brown eyes study Zach from head to toe as she inhales then exhales softly.
There is no response as he speaks her name though she does pipe up almost instantly when he makes the mistake of pausing long enough. "Only two? Tch. I'm sure I could list off a lot more of your issues than just two." Her tone is bitter and unamused and nothing about her stance suggests she wanted to see him here in the slightest. The staff out in the courtyard where he first arrived would have warned him about the severe young woman before directing him this way. But of course he knew what he was getting into.
He gets straight to the point, asking his question directly, leaving no room for any uncertainty as to what he is asking about. He brings names from the future past to the surface without reservation even if the sheer idea of what he is suggesting is utter lunacy.
Ayame blinks slowly twice, inhaling then exhaling again as if preparing herself for something. Before finally answering him directly and without flinching in the slightest. "Excuse me?" Her right hand reaches out to place the sharp chisel on the back of the stone bench she had been seated on.
"That is the most ridiculous question I have heard of in quite a while. I am not sure if you should be commended for your creative non sequitor, or forced from the grounds for wasting my time." She plants her wooden staff against the ground with a thud, her left hand keeping a hold of it for now.
"What do you want?"
The psion grins; this is certainly memorable. "The memories," Zach says, not flinching, not budging. "I remember a whole about to end," Zach says with the weight of conviction. "Cities in chaos and nature run amuck. You told me to be at a place, before it was too late. You told Rust something along those same lines. We went there, after he and I had fought," Zach pauses, looking for the right word. "After he and I had fought some kind of god. There was a song, and that where those memories end."
Zach stops, takes a deep breath. The past week has been, exhausting for the psion. In addition to being physically draining, it was mentally and spiritually draining as well. He's used to the first, but he hasn't felt a spiritual or mental strain like this in quite some time, owing to his own gifts in that regard.
"Look," he says after a moment. "If anything, I appreciate it. There were a lot of good lessons gained from them. I'm not angry with you," he says, "But I need to know, and I feel like I have a right to. If I have to earn it from you, then tell me what I have to do to do that."
Her dismissive response doesn't seem to deter him in the slightest. But such things are to be expected by now. He responds quickly, without any sign of relenting. The look he gets back continues to be impassive, bordering on annoyed, her brow furrowing slightly when he mentions memories. As he begins to speak of a world on the brink of ruin, her frown grows stronger, her grip on her staff tighter. He mentions battling a god and of special instructions imparted to him and Rust sometime in the days that will never come.
Shifting her staff from her side, she plunks it down in front of her, now gripping it with both hands, leaning forward against it slightly as if to support herself while listening to his expression of thanks to the one who is staring back at him without a single flicker of recognition or acknowledgement. But she does finally blurt out, "Really? And what lessons could you have possibly learned from such a hyperactive imagination? What are you even thanking me for?"
She half closes her eyes, bowing her head slightly as she continues to lean against her engraved staff. "What are you trying to learn from this line of questioning? What answer is it that you hope to hear?" she states, her voice losing only a smidge of its hostility.
Zach peers down at Ayame through narrowed eyes. Her non-answer, the fact that she's trying to play this off instead of treating him, truely treating him, like he's insane confirms pretty much everything he's suspected. He's tired, and needs like a week of sleep. His tact, such as it might be, really isn't right now. "The how," Zach says slowly, "Really isn't important at the end of the day. I probably would not understand half of it. The what, in specific, doesn't really matter. Same reason, and I have a pretty good idea."
Zach takes a deep breath as he processes the reactions she is showing. "The question I really need the answer is why you did this."
And now Zach relaxes a bit. Eases off of the throttle, somewhat. "I... can't escape the feeling that the answer to that question is more important than I will know right away."
She's quiet as he speaks, not cutting him off in the slightest. Her attention is back on him, however, glancing up at him as he moves close enough to look down at her. She doesn't seem defensive though, or particularly on guard. Of course, anyone who knew anything of Zach would know he wouldn't strike out of no where, unprovoked. It wasn't who he was. Especially now.
"You look exhausted." she replies, sounding neither concerned nor glad, simply observing. She stands up straight, pulling her staff off the ground to hold it at her side horizontally as she turns away from Zach to look back into the rock garden itself, the sands a sea of smoothly grooved grains.
"In your service, have you taken lives?" she asks abruptly.
"Relates to the second issue, not the first," he says tiredly. "But twice, to answer your question," he says, "Both times," he says, thinking, "The only way it would have ended differently would have been with me dying. They weren't accidents, and not the end result of a string of bad decisions." Which are some important distinctions to make. "I'd do it again if I had to, but I regret the necessity of it." He means it.
"But that doesn't give me my answer," he says.
"Curious clarifications to make," Ayame replies, glancing up from her study of the rock garden, her expression finally shifted into a faint smile of bemusement. "Did you think I was accusing you of something? Do think I would care if you had or hadn't? You sounded a little defensive there..."
She shakes her head, looking back to the garden. "Would it bother you if there was no answer? What if there was no explanation to be found?" She waves her hand somewhat dismissively before lowering it to grip her staff once more. "Don't fixate on what you don't know, focus on what you do know. The path you have architected for yourself through life... are you happy with it?"
"But important ones," Zach agrees, thinking. He doesn't even really rise to the bait about the need to clarify. "It wouldn't stop me from looking," Zach finally says after thinking about the question. "You know me," he says with a tired grin. "I don't quit." The smile is still there. "But yeah, I'm happy with my life. It's hard, occassionally. Pretty thankless, most of the time. But it's challenging, and interesting. And I think it's worth it."
"Is answering the question really that hard for you," Zach asks, a slight frown of concern. He's not mocking, not even a little flippant. He is honestly concerned.
"Hrmph." Ayame replies about his tenacious nature. "I'm beginning to see that." She looks up though when he talks about his life, taking what seems to be the first glimpse of interest in what he has to say about his path through life. "That's good," she finally murmurs, sounding not particularly supportive as she looks away again, but definitely contemplative.
His next statement elicits a soft laughf from the girl - not mocking, per se, but as if he had said something deliberately funny. "Ah ...As if anything would be hard for me. Seriously."
She turns to face him again now, no longer paying attention to the smoothly raked sands. "You already have all the information you need to find the answer on your own. You will figure out in time. Or perhaps not. It does not matter to me." Her right hand lifts to flip a length of her long hair back over her shoulder.
"They are your dreams, not mine. Make of your life what you will. Whims of fantasy or images of events that never happened certainly cannot hurt you any... but if they have helped you along a path that you are happy with, then so be it, I suppose."
She pauses, closing her eyes for a moment, running her deft fingers over the surface of her carved staff in thought. "Why are you exhausted? Speak of this or be gone, I have a lot of work to do."
Zach frowns a bit. "I think that the answer is at least as important to you as it was to me. It might do more harm than good to keep it to yourself," he says in a tone that suggests he's willing to drop the matter for the moment. But only for the moment. The other piece of information he needs is pretty important as well, and he's not about to waste an opportunity to learn what he needs to know by pressing too much harder.
"There's a monster running around SouthTown," Zach says finally. "It's ripping apart peoples' souls, and keeping the pieces for himself. The victims are left in a world of hurt. Depression, anxiety, anemia, they don't heal as well as they should. It wouldn't surprise me to learn if he got some benefit or another from the portions he is keeping."
Zach heaves a tired sigh. "I can help them, sort of. I can stave off the symptoms for a while. But it doesn't last, and it leaves me pretty tired. The Butcher, that's what Little called him, leaves some kind of corrupt energy in his victims. I don't know what to make of it, let alone how to deal with it."
"I will be the judge of that." Ayame replies curtly regarding doing more harm than good. She's otherwise quiet, looking a Zach a bit distantly, as if focused on something far in the distance behind him. When he resumes, she doesn't shift her focus to him immediately... not until he mentions ripping apart souls do her eyes snap to his face. He... definitely has her attention now.
"I have heard reports, but nothing specific enough for me to follow up on." she replies softly, studying him again, glancing from head to toe as if evaluating his condition. "It has not gotten to you, I trust?" A statement of fact, not concern. Of course.
He describes the symptoms - more than just injury or exhaustion, but a change in personality as well? She searches his face for a moment before finally turning to the side, her right hand lifting to rest at her chin. "So you have seen those afflicted by his attacks. The Butcher, yes? There are creatures of the night that can target the very essence of life... even gifted chi manipulates have sometimes found ways of doing just that. But... the symptoms always pass with time. Strength comes back, energy regenerates, and the wounds are mended. Just like any other injury, though sometimes a bit slower than most."
She glances back up at Zach, "Depending on the severity of the drain, it could even manifest as a change in their psyche. But... again... it would only be temporary. Maybe a day at most. The body is strong, the spirit even moreso."
She turns to face Zach again, brown eyes narrowed, her staff held horizontally at her side now. "There are a few cases where they would not simply heal on their own. I could explain all the metaphysical sciences that make this even possible. But that would be like playing Mozart for a tree frog." she hmphs.
She pauses for a moment, looking to the side as if struck by another idea, then glances at Zach, more curious now. "You have met some of the creature's victims then? How, exactly, did you help them? What did you try to do, and what effect did it seem to have?" She blinks once, realizing another important detail. "And who are they? Where are they?"
"It hasn't gotten me," Zach says. "And before I had seen the three victims, I would have thought that what I saw was impossible. I'm ignorant," he admits, "But I learn ably enough." He thinks for a moment. "What I did borrows from the concepts of Houriki and Reiki. Dramatically speaking, I lend them some of the strength of my own soul. It's exactly as tiring as it sounds. Louis, who is still in the hospital, wasn't sleeping well. Night terrors, I think. After I helped him, he seemed to find a little bit of peace. He was resting deeply at Southtown General, last I saw him. One victim was someone like me. Daniel called her an empath, and she was actually worse off than Louis. Couldn't sleep, or eat. Could barely put together a whole sentence without writing it down to help her out. She slept better than I did that night," Zach comments wryly as he moves his head to work a crimp out of his neck. "Agent Little refused my help in that matter, but he's graciously allowing me to work the case with him. Of the three, though, he doesn't seem to need as much help."
"Hm... so restoring some of their soul energy with your own... staved off the symptoms for a while at the very least..." the miko replies, focusing on the details of Zach's account. "I am not surprised you have a gift for such things." She raises a thin eyebrow slightly as he mentions the names of Louis and Daniel and the hospital proper, but doesn't interrupt as the soldier continues.
She doesn't show surprise or concern as he describes the more severe symptoms observed in another, though her mouth curls into a more pronounced frown. When he mentions Daniel by his title, Agent Little, her frown fades, however, a soft exhale escaping her lips. "That man... has a gift for getting into things far beyond his understanding." A soft shake of her head accompanies the response.
She cants her head to the side slightly, "You said you suspected the creature gains benefits from the souls he is taking. That isn't unusual... but for most cases, it is just nourishment, like food for you and me. But in this case..."
The girl lifts her hand from her staff to rest it across her forehead, looking down a little now. "You need to be careful." she finally replies. "The most likely explanation for these rent souls not healing on their own would be that The Butcher is still draining from them somehow. He might have formed some kind of leeching bond with them... as their souls attempt to heal, he just continuely draws from them. He is likely gaining more than just nourishment. Tch."
She shakes her head, looking at Zach directly, lowering her hand from her forehead then, "When you pour some of your soul into them to alleviate their suffering, your own signature of energy becomes part of the whole. It is likely that he ends up draining it right along with the rest of whatever he is taking. Depending on how acute his senses are, he might be able to distinguish that there is another strong soul for him to hunt. You might have just made yourself a mark."
"Which would explain why the help is only temporary," Zach says quietly. "If he's still draining them." Zach takes a deep breath, considering. "If he comes after me," Zach says finally, "Then I'm okay with that. Better me than someone else." That last sentence is made with bedrock conviction. He considers for a moment.
"So how can the bond be severed?" Zach asks. "My solution works... but it isn't really a good one, for pretty much every reason we just talked about. Plus, it'd keep him from tracking down his victims." Zach looks skyward, staring at a passing cloud. "But this seems like it's beyond what I know how to do. There's that... maybe it's a part of the Butcher's soul? that's left behind."
The miko is quiet for now, a passing breeze tousling her hair and rustling her hamaka, the leafless willows swaying slightly. "If he hunts you down... and forms the same bond, you will be in the same situation as the rest of his victims. Do not be a martyr..." She smirks faintly, a flicker of a familiar expression from bygone times. "Not that I care, but as impossible as it seems, you really do have a strong soul. Feeding on it is only going to make the monster more powerful, creating a cycle of escalating violence that will become increasingly difficult to bring to an end."
She exhales softly, glancing away from the garden toward the large shrine rising over the wall to the side of it. "There must be a way to seal or dissipate the link; a ritual of some kind, no doubt. But as much as I hate to say it, I do not know the answer off hand." she grunts with a shake of her head. "There is a library beneath the shrine. No doubt the answer exists there. I will need to spend time studying to find the right response to seal the link..."
She glances back up at Zach after a moment's hesitation, "I believe the link can be sealed, potentially for quite a long while. But the only way to really be sure that all ties are broken for good is to destroy the soul eater itself... And that, I believe is more than you or I can hope to do alone."
"I'd offer to help you look through the library," Zach says as he yawns. A nap is in order for the Marine. "But I'd put money that that would break all sorts of rules." He reaches for his wallet, and pulls out a card. He offers it to Ayame with both hands, as might be proper. It has his contact information: a phone number for the office on Camp Fuji as well as a cell phone number, along with Zach's e-mail address. "Please," he says, "Let me know what you find out. I can get some help when it finally comes to confronting it. But right now, I need information."
The card is taken, Ayame glancing over it, committing its contents to memory, then stuffing it away into her left sleeve where hidden pockets are used to stash all kinds of little surprises. A faint smirk crosses her lips as she shrugs slightly, "Just telling you about is breaking all kinds of rules. But while I could allow you into it all the same, very little of the texts are written in any modern dialect... Unless you are fluent in joudai nihongo or Heian era Japanese, it might not be the best use of your time."
Her smirk fades slightly, "Besides, you need to regain your strength. You probably have a new friend eager to meet you now..." She glances back toward the courtyard, her voice fading before she grunts softly, "We have plenty of spare rooms in the living quarters. If you want to rest a while, one could be made available for you before you go back to playing the Brave Knight of the Kingdom of Southtown."
Log created on 14:05:16 02/08/2015 by Ayame, and last modified on 12:03:49 02/11/2015.